Thursday, June 09, 2005

IGDA - Articles - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons

IGDA - Articles - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons: "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons
There's a bottom-line reason most industries gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It's the single most expensive way there is to get the work done.

by Evan Robinson

Executive Summary

When used long-term, Crunch Mode slows development and creates more bugs when compared with 40-hour weeks.

More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.

In the short term, working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer periods of continuous work drastically reduce cognitive function and increase the chance of catastrophic error. In both the short- and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease.


In the aftermath of ea_spouse's post on LiveJournal, quality-of-life conversations in the game development business have taken on a new life and a new urgency. Ea_spouse received thousands of comments to her original post — followed quickly by major media coverage. Thousands of people around the net participated in a vast, spontaneous discussion that explored issues like mandatory overtime, productivity, job portability, laziness, unionization, lawsuits and the general evil of corporations.

I've spent 20 years developing and managing software projects. Every year that passed — and every project I worked on — fueled my growing conviction that Crunch Mode is grossly, destructively, expensively inefficient. It's common sense that the more hours people work, the less productive they become. But, over time, I noticed that the productivity losses that result from working too many extra hours start taking a bigger toll faster than most software managers realize. As I dug around, I was stunned to discover that I was hardly the first one to figure this out: my observations have been common knowledge among industrial engineers for almost a century.

I've amassed a personal collection of source information over the past 15 years, this summary mainly includes information that you can readily find on the Web. I don't want you to take my word for it: I want you to be able to go out and read the original source material for yourself."

The History

In 1908 — almost a century ago — industrial efficiency pioneer Ernst Abbe published in Gessamelte Abhandlungen his conclusions that a reduction in daily work hours from nine to eight resulted in an increase in total daily output. (Nor was he the first to notice this. William Mather had adopted an eight-hour day at the Salford Iron Works in 1893.)

In 1909, Sidney J. Chapman published Hours of Labour, in which he described long-term variation in worker productivity as a function of hours worked per day. His conclusions will be discussed in some detail below.

When Henry Ford famously adopted a 40-hour workweek in 1926, he was bitterly criticized by members of the National Association of Manufacturers. But his experiments, which he'd been conducting for at least 12 years, showed him clearly that cutting the workday from ten hours to eight hours — and the workweek from six days to five days — increased total worker output and reduced production cost. Ford spoke glowingly of the social benefits of a shorter workweek, couched firmly in terms of how increased time for consumption was good for everyone. But the core of his argument was that reduced shift length meant more output.

I have found many studies, conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military, that support the basic notion that, for most people, eight hours a day, five days per week, is the best sustainable long-term balance point between output and exhaustion. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds; and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.

But, somehow, Silicon Valley didn't get the memo. Ea_spouse writes:

The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm — seven days a week — with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week [sic].

Actually, working 9am to 10pm, six days a week, plus 9am to 6:30pm one day a week comes out to (6 * 13 = 78 + 9:30 = ) 87.5 hours per week — but after that many hours, who's still counting?

Electronic Arts is no different than many high-tech companies in this regard. For them — and anyone else who wants to increase their employees' productivity and sanity — let's take a look at some of the assumptions management makes regarding hours, output, efficiency, and production costs; and see how a century of industrial research has conclusively, consistently proven those assumptions wrong.

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